MAA News – From the Editor’s Desk

Happy New Year from the Editor’s Desk at Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies.  This year the journal brings many glad tidings. Let’s start with the January 99/1 (2024) issue, another multi-disciplinary collection of fascinating articles, beginning with “The Cerne Giant in Its Early Medieval Context,” co-authored by Thomas Morcom and Helen Gittos. The article takes its cue from the recent archeological redating of the Cerne Abbas Giant to the early Middle Ages to argue that the colossal figure cut into the Dorset hillside was meant to be understood as the classical hero Hercules and, in the early medieval period, was the marker of a muster station used by West Saxon armies. Moreover, by the eleventh century, legends emanating from a nearby monastery had transformed him into a local saint! Jamie C. Fumo’s “All That Glitters: Chaucer’s Pardoner, Safrounen, and Culinary Deception” unpacks the multifaceted meaning of the Pardoner’s invocation of saffron in his sermon by contextualizing the precious seasoning in its culinary history. We linger in late medieval England for “No Romance without Finance: Courtship in Late Medieval England,” by the team of Judith M. Bennett, Ruth Mazo Karras, and Janelle Werner. With a clear eye and decidedly without romance, the article analyzes how courtship for medieval men and women was not always just a step on the way to marriage; for poor women especially, it could represent an important financial transaction.  Crossing the channel, Eric Nemarich’s “Organistae and the Cultivation of Polyphony at Notre-Dame de Paris, c. 1190–1273” revises the history of polyphonic masters on the Left Bank of Paris by scouring the archives to show how, in the first decades of the thirteenth century, they were supported by the bishops of Paris. It was only in the later years of the century, when episcopal patronage eroded, that the masters developed a reputation as “impoverished choral clerks.”  And finally, in “The Time of Custom and the Medieval Myth of Ancient Customary Law,” Ada Maria Kuskowski takes a hard look at the idea that in the Middle Ages customary law was necessarily “good old law.” She finds instead that it was only in the modern—not the medieval—period that customary law began to be reframed as old law.

By the time you read this newsletter, the digital and PDF versions of the January issue will have been published online on the University of Chicago Press website, while the printed version may have already reached your mailbox. In addition, our Speculum Spotlight podcast, a collaboration with “The Multicultural Middle Ages,” will also have posted. Will Beattie hosts this episode that features an animated conversation with Thomas Morcom and Helen Gittos, who discuss their article (encapsulated above), “The Cerne Giant in its Early Medieval Context.” The podcast is available here. We are also proud to note that their research findings published in this Speculum article have been picked up with breathtaking speed in US and UK news outlets, including the Smithsonian Magazine; Newsweek; the BBC; the Guardian; the Times; the Daily Mail; and various BBC radio programs, including Radio 4’s Today, demonstrating vividly that the scholarly research of medievalists, and by extension humanists in general, continues to be recognized as of interest to wide audiences, and of course, as we all know, as a valuable tool for understanding our world.

Looking back, in my last column I reported on a list of prizes recently awarded to Speculum articles. Happily, we have one more to add to that list: the 2023 Bishko Memorial Prize from the Association for Spanish & Portuguese Historical Studies has been awarded to Adam Franklin-Lyons and Marie A. Kelleher for their article “Framing Mediterranean Famine: Food Crisis in Fourteenth-Century Barcelona,” Speculum 97/1 (2022): 40–76. The citation’s concluding sentence commends it as an “exceptionally brilliant and deeply deserving work of path-breaking scholarship.” Congratulations to Adam and Marie!

Looking forward, our next issue, April 99/2 (2024), a themed issue, is the much anticipated “Race, Race-Thinking, and Identity in the Global Middle Ages,” guest-edited by the team of Cord J. Whitaker, Nahir Otaño Gracia, and F. X. Fauvelle. It is a lively issue, peopled overwhelmingly by early career scholars, who have brought the questions, methods, and preoccupations of premodern critical race studies to bear on medieval topics. Look for the postcard and posters promoting the issue at meetings of the AHA, the MLA, the CAA, RaceB4Race, and of course the March meeting of the Medieval Academy of America at the University of Notre Dame.

Finally, speaking of themed issues, we are thrilled to report that the call for proposals for Speculations, the journal’s centenary issue, to be published in 2026, received a spectacular response from the international community of medievalists. By the time the deadline closed on 1 December, we had received over 225 proposals for only 50 places in the issue. We’ll get to work selecting proposals later this month. But as one of our editorial collective remarked, “this is going to be hard!” Such a stunning response demonstrates that in 2024 medieval studies is alive and well and overflowing with new ideas for the future of our discipline.

Happy New Year once again! I look forward to seeing you in South Bend.

Katherine L. Jansen
Editor, Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies

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